Mental Health

5 ways to hold on to optimism — and reap health benefits

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Despite many Americans feeling discouraged as 2016 ended, optimism abounds for the future. Such an attitude is not just a trait of those with a sunny disposition: Research indicates that optimism can positively impact both mental and physical health. If you find yourself with a more cynical mindset, there are methods that can improve your outlook on life. We offer five ways to help you see the world through rosier glasses.

What the 21st Century Cures Act means for behavioral health

Richard Frank, PhD
Richard Frank, PhD, Contributor

The 21st Century Cures Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in December, provides or extends funding for a variety of health initiatives, including support for people with mental health and substance use issues. It builds on important innovations introduced in the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act.

The power and prevalence of loneliness

Charlotte S. Yeh, MD
Charlotte S. Yeh, MD, Chief Medical Officer, AARP Services, Inc., Guest Contributor

In addition to the emotional toll felt by millions of older people, loneliness affects brain function and physical health as well. The simple connection of regular contact with others provides support and helps alleviate isolation. Older people experiencing loneliness also miss simple everyday moments, such as sharing a meal, holding hands, taking country walks, or going on holiday.

The “thinking” benefits of doodling

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

Remaining focused for extended periods of time is difficult, but researchers believe that doodling gives a break to parts of the brain, making it possible to absorb and retain more information overall. While this phenomenon is not well understood, neuroscience is starting to learn how doodling might help boost attention and and focus.

Understanding suicide in children and early adolescents may lead to more effective prevention

Ellen Braaten, Ph.D.
Ellen Braaten, Ph.D., Contributor

Though suicide in children and young adolescents is rare, it is still a far-too-frequent occurrence. It is also one that is increasing, particularly in black youth. There are differences in the characteristics and circumstances of children and adolescents who commit suicide. A better understanding of these could lead to more effective prevention programs.

Brain science suggests “mind wandering” can help manage anxiety

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

The wandering mind can get stuck on negative thoughts and start to “react” to a perceived threat that feels very real–and makes you feel anxious. Naming the negative feeling associated with that thought and then helping your mind wander in a more positive direction can help.

Caring for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

James Cartreine, PhD
James Cartreine, PhD, Contributing Editor

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience challenging physical and emotional problems. Those caring for loved ones affected by PTSD need to balance self-care, limits, and realistic expectations. While the symptoms of PTSD may never completely go away, there are effective treatments that can reduce the effects and improve the lives of sufferers and the ones who care for them.

Talk to the animals: Animal-assisted therapy offers emotional support

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Interacting with animals can be helpful to people dealing with issues like anxiety and depression. Animal-assisted therapy is used in settings such as retirement communities and hospitals, and can be helpful for those affected by traumatic events.

Regular meditation more beneficial than vacation

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

A study of participants in a mindfulness workshop found that the benefits of meditation and yoga are as significant as the relaxation benefit of taking a vacation, and are more persistent. In addition, regularly practicing meditation and yoga can boost immunity, and seems to promote healthier aging.

An approach to therapy that may make depression treatment more accessible

James Cartreine, PhD
James Cartreine, PhD, Contributing Editor

A recent study showed that behavioral activation can be an effective alternative to cognitive behavioral therapy for treating depression. This type of therapy emphasizes engaging in activities that can improve mental health, for example, connecting with people. Its advantage is that it takes less time and is less expensive to train people in behavioral activation so it may mean more therapists available at lower cost.